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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

The Most (and Least) Livable Cities for Expats Worldwide

Moving up seven ranks in the Quality of Urban Living Index, the Swiss city of Zug now comes out on top. On the other hand, Lagos — Nigeria’s largest city — enters the 2019 ranking in last place.
  • Zug owes its first place mainly to its stellar performance regarding safety & politics and local transportation.
  • Second-placed Tokyo delights with great local transportation and a high level of personal safety.
  • Taipei (3rd), which already featured among 2018’s best-rated cities, is the number one for healthcare.
  • Newcomer Lagos places last in the bottom 3, ranking below Yangon (80th) and Kuwait City (81st).
  • Both Doha and Zurich have managed to greatly improve their position in 2019.
  • Milan and Cape Town are this year’s biggest losers in the Quality of Urban Living Index.  

The Top 15


For the Quality of Urban Living Index, survey respondents evaluated the leisure options and climate, local transportation, safety and politics, as well as health and environment in their city. A city needed to have at least 50 respondents in order to rank in this index, which was the case for 82 cities in 2019.

A Green and Quiet Place: Zug

Of the top 3 cities in the Quality of Urban Living Index 2019, two — Tokyo and Taipei — were already featured among the previous year’s three best-rated destinations. However, the worldwide number one has moved up seven places from its 2018 ranking: the Swiss city of Zug owes its first place mainly to its excellent results in the Safety & Politics (1st out of 82) and Transportation (2nd) subcategories.

Zug is ranked the second-safest city for expats around the world, right after the city-state of Singapore. Not a single survey respondent in Zug is unhappy with their personal safety, while 83% even give this factor the best possible rating. Worldwide, about one in eleven expats (9%) are worried about their personal safety, whereas 42% couldn’t be any happier. A similar trend applies to the ratings for Zug’s local transportation infrastructure (85% very good, no negative responses at all).

I like the safety, cleanliness, predictability, nature, and general quality of life in Zug.

The ratings for the quality of Zug’s urban environment are equally glowing: over eight in ten expats (85%) consider it excellent, which means the city also ranks first for this factor. And Dutch expat in Zug makes sure to point out the “safety, cleanliness, predictability, nature, and general quality of life” is highlights of their stay. Zug’s ranking for the quality of life benefits from the great quality and availability of healthcare as well (82% and 87% positive responses, respectively). Over a third (35%) rate its affordability negatively, though (vs. 26% globally).

The local leisure options also leave a lot to be desired: here, Zug ranks a mere 58th out of 82 cities, with over one in eight expats (13%) judging them unfavorably. “I do not like the style of restaurants here and find them outrageously expensive,” an expat from the Netherlands complains. “I miss casual and cozy places with a modern, varied, and reasonably priced menu.” But if you are looking for a safe and quiet place to live, Zug might just be the city for you.

A Sense of Security and Peace: Tokyo

Tokyo’s ranking in the Quality of Urban Living Index remains unchanged (2nd out of 82 vs. 2nd out of 72 in 2018). Just like in 2018, its best-rated subcategory is transportation, where it comes in fourth place: 96% of expats in Tokyo are satisfied with the transportation network in the Japanese capital.

Moreover, nearly nine in ten respondents (89%) appreciate the easy availability of medical care in Tokyo, as well as its quality and affordability (10th and 12th out of 82, respectively). That Tokyo only ranks 11th out of 82 in the Health & Environment subcategory is solely due to the quality of its environment: with 75% of expats rating it positively (just a little over the global average of 71%), Tokyo ends up in 38th place for this factor.

There are lots of festivals going on here in Tokyo, which everyone can enjoy on a seasonal basis.

Still, life in Tokyo definitely has its benefits — it is among the safest cities for expats worldwide (5th out of 82), and many respondents highlight this aspect: “I really like the extra care that is placed on cleanliness and the sense of security and peace that I feel here,” a woman from Jamaica comments. While the city only lands in 25th place for the local leisure activities, this is still a well above-average result, with 83% positive ratings (vs. 74% globally). “There are lots of festivals going on here, which everyone can enjoy on a seasonal basis,” a respondent from South Korea says.

The Worldwide Number One for Healthcare: Taipei

Taipei has suffered some minor losses compared to the 2018 Quality of Urban Life Index, slipping from 1st place out of 72 destinations to 3rd out of 82.

I love the convenience of everything: access to food, great transportation, and cheap medical service.

While Health & Environment is still its best-rated subcategory (2nd), Taipei no longer comes first worldwide here, with Calgary (Canada) beating it to the top ranking. However, the Taiwanese metropolis still lands in first place for all the factors related to healthcare — its quality, affordability, and availability. A respondent from Paraguay points out the “the convenience of everything: access to food, great transportation, and cheap medical service”. Like in Tokyo, though, the far more negative ratings for the quality of the environment negatively affect its result in this subcategory: “I especially dislike the fact that pollution here is higher than at home,” a US American expat says. Around one in six respondents (16%) aren’t happy with the quality of the environment, either.

Taipei’s result in the Safety & Politics subcategory (23rd) is similarly skewed: on the one hand, the city is among the three safest places for expats around the globe (3rd), right after Singapore and Zug, but Taiwan’s particular political situation seems to be a cause of concern for many (40th). And while the survey participants consider local transportation to be excellent (3rd) and the leisure options to be good (19th), they are far less happy with the local climate and weather: one in five expats (20%) views this factor negatively. “The weather here is depressing,” an expat from Italy thinks.

Political and Personal Insecurity: Lagos

Quite unlike the top 3 destinations, none of the worst-rated cites — Lagos (82nd), Kuwait City (81st), and Yangon (80th) — appeared in the respective list in the 2018 Quality of Urban Living Index. Due to a lack of respondents, Lagos wasn’t featured in the previous year’s Expat City Ranking, but promptly lands in last place in 2019, just like it did in 2017.

Nigeria’s largest city comes last in two of the index’s four subcategories, for both Health & Environment and Transportation (82nd each). Expats are especially dissatisfied with the local availability of healthcare — or lack thereof — in Lagos (60% negative ratings vs. 13% globally) and the quality of medical care in Nigeria in general (63% negative responses vs. 18% worldwide). As far as the quality of its environment is concerned, Lagos also ends up among the bottom 3 for this factor (80th out of 82), as 55% view it negatively (vs. 17% globally).

You aren’t able to just walk around here in Lagos.

Lagos’s performance in the Safety & Politics subcategory is hardly any better (81st out of 82). The city’s rating is not only affected by Nigeria’s generally unstable political climate (81st), but expats don’t feel safe in Lagos, either: a German expat woman criticizes the “insecurity — both political and personal. You aren’t able to just walk around here.” It seems like 38% of the respondents in Lago agree with her: they all rate their personal safety negatively (compared to 9% worldwide).

At least, the weather doesn’t seem to be too bad: with 64% positive ratings, Lagos lands in an average 40th place for its local climate.

An Extreme Climate and a Lack of Leisure Options: Kuwait City

Unlike expats in Lagos, expats in Kuwait City do hate the local weather: 67% are unhappy with the climate, with the city coming last worldwide for this factor (82nd out of 82). And it doesn’t do any better when it comes to local leisure options (another 82nd place) — over one in four expats (26%) even give them the worst possible rating (vs. 2% globally). “There’s a lack of interesting things to do in your free time, including cultural activities or outdoor activities,” a British expat sums it up.

Moreover, Kuwait City has the worst-rated quality of environment in the ranking (82nd), with 32% of respondents considering this factor very bad, nearly eleven times the global average (3%). Kuwait City ranks just a little better for the availability of healthcare (75th), but 24% of expats are still dissatisfied with this factor (vs. 13% worldwide). With a 79th place in the Transportation subcategory, local transportation is nothing to write home about, either.

Kuwait City does best in the Safety & Politics subcategory, where it ranks 53rd out of 82 destinations. While the result for Kuwait’s political stability in general is just below average (49th), expats aren’t all that content with their personal safety in Kuwait City: 19% rate it negatively, compared to 9% globally.

A Highly Polluted City: Yangon

In terms of personal safety, Yangon performs far better than both Lagos and Kuwait City, landing in an average 40th place (out of 82) for this factor and a somewhat sub-standard 65th for the Safety & Politics subcategory. However, its second-to-last rank (81st) in two other subcategories ensures that Myanmar’s largest city still finishes among the bottom 3 in the Quality of Urban Living Index (80th out of 82).

Yangon’s disappointing performance in the Health & Environment subcategory (81st) is partly due to the harsh ratings for the availability of medical care (54% negative ratings vs. 13% globally), as well as the general quality of healthcare in Myanmar (55% vs. 18%). A similar share of the respondents in Yangon (54%) also judge the quality of its environment unfavorably. “The air and water in Yangon are highly polluted,” according to a Danish expat.

Moreover, expats in Yangon seem to suffer from a lack of local leisure options (81st), with one in ten (10%) being very unhappy with this factor. Only Kuwait City performs worse in this regard. And Yangon’s results for the local climate (57th) or transportation (73rd) aren’t nearly good enough to make up for the downsides.

Ups & Downs: Changes in the Quality of Urban Living Index 2019

Since 2018, there have been some drastic changes in the Quality of Urban Living Index. Doha and Zurich have both gained twelve places, while Cape Town and Milan have each lost 17 ranks.

Ranking 48th out of 82 cities, Doha still performs a little below average in this index, but it has improved significantly since the 2018 Expat City Ranking (60th out of 72 destinations). This change for the better is largely due to two subcategories. In the Health & Environment subcategory, Doha has climbed from 41st to 28th place. For example, in 2018, 74% of expats considered local healthcare in Doha to be easily available, but 82% rate the same factor positively in 2019. Moreover, the Safety & Politics subcategory (19th in 2019 vs. 38th in 2018) benefits from the general improvement in Qatar’s political climate: in the 2019 Expat City Ranking, 78% of expats in Doha describe their country of residence as politically stable, compared to 62% in the 2018 survey.

Zurich already made it into the top 20 for quality of urban living in 2018 (16th out of 72); in 2019, however, Switzerland’s largest city even features in the global top 5 (4th out of 82). It has made gains across the board, with most factors in all subcategories moving up the ranks since the previous year. Some of the most noticeable changes affect the rankings for transportation (from 12th to 5th), local leisure options (from 37th to 29th), and the availability of medical care in Zurich (from 30th to 13th). “The quality of life is one of the main reasons I like it so much here,” as a Russian expat in Zurich puts it.

Dropping 17 places with regard to the quality of life, from 52nd place in 2018 to 69th in 2019, Cape Town is one of the “biggest losers” in this index. For instance, its result for local transportation has plummeted, too, from ranking 58th out of 72 to 76th out of 82.

Cape Town also performs much worse in the Safety & Politics subcategory, regarding both political stability in general and personal safety in the city. In 2019, nearly half the expats in Cape Town (49%) do not feel safe there, and only Johannesburg — another South African destination — shows an even worse performance for this factor. “I feel as if I am living in a bubble,” a British woman in Cape Town describes her situation. “I miss the freedom to walk or ride anywhere at any time, and I hate having to worry about my security. As I write this, my alarm is on as I'm home alone — and if I hear any strange noises, then I'm on alert!”

Milan’s showing in the Quality of Urban Living Index (from 43th in 2018 to 60th in 2019) has also been affected by its below-average results for personal safety (from 48th to 65th) and political stability (from 59th to 75th). While nearly four in five expats (78%) were happy with their personal safety in 2018, only 64% say the same in the 2019 survey.

The respondents are also notably less satisfied with the availability of healthcare in the Italian city (from 41st to 60th) and with the quality of its environment (from 51st to 68th). For example, 36% of expats in Milan describe the latter in negative terms, more than twice the global average of 17%. What is more, local traffic and public transportation seem to be a common complaint among the survey respondents. Expats criticize the “traffic” in Milan, its “bad public infrastructure”, and the “frequent transport strikes”. It is therefore not particularly surprising that Milan just lands in a rather mediocre 41st place for local transportation (vs. ranking 30th in 2018).

Full Ranking

Further Reading